By Nathan Duke
New York's State Department will grant $625,454 to Tarrytown-based environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper, the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center for planning a redevelopment analysis of the creek, which separates western Queens and Brooklyn, said Paul Parkhill, spokesman for the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. The grant will be awarded under the state's Brownfields Opportunity Area, a state planning program that funds community studies of areas with brownfield contamination, he said.”This grant will allow neighborhood groups who know the area best to proactively plan for the future,” City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) said. “For far too long, Newtown Creek has been the overlooked dumping ground of New York City.”Brownfields are abandoned industrial or commercial sites where construction is prevented by environmental contamination.A massive oil spill, believed to have started in the creek between 50 and 100 years ago was discovered by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter patrol in 1978 along the bank of the creek where Standard Oil once operated a massive oil refinery.Previous studies by Riverkeeper and the state's Environmental Conservation Department found that 17 million gallons of oil have seeped into the waterway, but a 2007 study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that the spill may be as large as 30 million gallons, making it the largest underground oil spill in United States history.Basil Seggos, Riverkeeper's chief investigator, said the new grant will help to build a more environmentally safe community along the polluted creek.”[It] will enable residents and businesses to chart a course for a cleaner waterway, new parks, expanded economic opportunities and the cleanup of toxic sites,” he said. “A bright future for this once-forgotten waterway is within reach.”Parkhill said the grant would allow the groups to identify sites along the creek where remediation could allow for non-polluting manufacturers, such as woodworkers or arts-related companies, to locate.Standard Oil's descendant, ExxonMobil, entered into two consent orders in 1990 with the DEC to clean up the waterway. Exxon announced last fall that it would apply for a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that would limit the amount of water and pollutants that can be discharged during the company's recovery efforts at the creek. The move followed a lawsuit filed in early 2007 by Riverkeeper, which accused Exxon of dumping untreated water back into the creek without proper permits.Riverkeeper, residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and a number of Queens and Brooklyn elected officials, including Gioia and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, have filed suit against the oil giant for its role in the spill. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has also announced his intent to file suit against Exxon.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.